Little will mean a lot as Chiefs plan to open up their offense
The Purple & White regrouped, however, and wound up being quite effective with a ground-based, option offense that rolled over, through and around most opposition defenses the final six games of the season, powering their way to a Southeastern Ohio Athletic League championship in the process.
Now that junior QB Lane Little is healthy again, the Chiefs plan to put him to work getting the ball to several talented receivers.
Once the kinks were worked out, it worked well for the Purple & White.
In 2014, while the Chiefs figure they can both run the ball and put it in the air, it will be up to Little to get the ball to as many as a half-dozen different receivers.
“It’s a very good problem to have,” Burke said. “Coach (Brian) Breining and I have talked that we might have to have a tally chart to make sure (all the main receivers) get a couple touches. You want to reward kids for the hard work and energy they put in — but, at the same time, when we have a playmaker and he hasn’t touched the ball but one time in the first half, that’s not good. We want to get our playmakers some touches.
“It keeps everything in the game plan in play,” he added. “You don’t necessarily have to come up with different ways to execute a running play; you can throw the football, and vice-versa. I believe we’ll be able to run the football and set up the pass and complement each other both running and passing.”
To do so, however, they will need protection from a revamped offensive line — the Chiefs graduated all but one of their full-time starters — that could average between 250 and 260 pounds but has little varsity experience.
“I think (the O-line) was a concern for some people going into the season,” Burke said, “but when I put names up on the board I liked the offensive linemen that we had. They just lacked experience.
“Kory Henthorne (a 6-foot-6, 255-pound sophomore) is a good, tall, athletic kid, Keith Martin (6-1, 260, senior, the lone O-line returnee from last season) has brought some energy to the offensive line and Zach Buckley (6-0, 295, junior) is stepping in at center and has used his hard work in the off-season to springboard his way into some success,” he continued.
“Brandon Skinner (6-0, 290, junior) has stepped up and done a nice job, Josh Rardain (6-0, 200, junior) is a guard, and Tommy Hayden (6-3, 210, junior) is very consistent.”
Henthorne and Martin can play all along the O-line, with Skinner and Hayden at tackles.
“We might be a little bit light in the depth department,” Burke noted, “but in the skill department we’re probably better on the offensive line now than we were a year ago at the exact same time — we just need to make up for a lack of experience.”
Seniors Kevin Fisher (6-9, 230) and D.J. Madison (6-2, 215) give the Chiefs some nice options at tight end.
“Again, it’s a nice problem to have” having two solid tight ends, Burke said. “We have a couple running backs we like and a couple tight ends that we like, (and) multiple receivers that we like, which means we can give a different look on offense each and every down or however we design the game plan.
“We have good tight ends who allow us to establish our running game,” he continued. “You might see four receivers or three running backs or two tight ends, and that’s not easy for a defense to prepare for.
“I like our entire group (of linemen). It’s a matter of figuring out a good substitution pattern, because those are the same guys who play on our defensive line as well.”
Little (5-11, 155) more than makes up for a lack of stature with an excellent and accurate arm, running speed, leadership, plenty of heart and a lot of guts and determination… not necessarily in that order.
“This game is about taking guys to the ground as forcefully as we can,” Burke said, “and we want to limit the opportunities for defenses to do that to him… but at the same time, he’s a tough kid and he’s a competitor, and sometimes that’s easier said than done. He just needs to be smart because we’re a better team when he’s out there on the field.
“Maybe the injury he had last season (a broken collarbone in the third quarter of the season opener at Lancaster) could have happened to anybody,” he added. “We don’t know, but we make the assumption because he’s a little smaller in stature. But there have been a lot of quarterbacks his size… it’s just a matter of (the offensive) scheme being able to maximize what the quarterback can do.”
Little certainly showed no fear in last Friday’s OHSAA Jamboree scrimmage at Sheridan when he scrambled 38 yards for a third-quarter touchdown. It would have been easy for him to run out of bounds after a 10- or 15-yard gain, but he kicked into high gear and outran the defense to the corner of the end zone.
“We unfortunately lost Lane, our throwing quarterback, at the beginning of last year to an injury, so we went to more of a play-action pass-and-run-dominated scheme,” Burke said. “We have (Little) back this year, so we’ve changed the scheme up a little bit so we can accentuate some of his strengths while at the same time take advantage of the six, seven, eight receivers that we really feel comfortable with.
“We have to find a way to protect him up front and get (those receivers) the ball, and to change the scheme to pocket-protect Lane,” he added.
Junior Isaiah Smith (6-4, 190) and senior Nathan Cocks (5-9, 160) led the Chiefs in receptions last season and will be among Little’s many targets.
“There will be lots of times when we have four receivers in the game,” Burke said. “We have (senior) Chance Cox (6-2, 155) back this year; Nathan Cocks is a great fundamental route-runner; (senior) Casey Phillips (6-2, 160) is going to come in and provide us with some big plays; (senior) Joe Foltz (6-2, 175) will come in and do some big things, and Isaiah Smith is back and has a nice connection with Lane.”
Little can also throw to junior Brendan Karns (5-9, 175) and sophomore Jenson Wallace (6-0, 150) as well as the two tight ends.
Junior Bryce McBride (5-11, 190) is the leading returning ground-gainer from last season, and he’ll be joined at running back by senior Dean Jordan (5-11, 200). Junior Colton Stilwell (5-9, 200) will also see time in the backfield.
Although Logan will be a pass-first offense, opponents best not snooze when the Chiefs hand the ball off. However, with all three of those running backs also being linebackers on defense, Burke says it will be imperative to keep them as fresh as possible.
“We’ve talked about managing the repetitions of guys so we can keep everybody at their freshest and best at any point in the game,” he pointed out. “Sometimes you just feel more comfortable with certain people and you tend to leave them in too long because at their freshest they’re one of the best but when they’re tired maybe they’re not.”